Anti-Chinese Protests in Myanmar Cost Chinese Companies $26 Million

Protesters sit on a makeshift barricade erected to deter security forces during demonstrations against the military coup in Yangon's Hlaing Tharyar township on March 14, 2021. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
STR/AFP via Getty Images

Chinese state media on Monday estimated $26 million in damage from the vandalism of Chinese-owned businesses in Yangon, Myanmar this weekend by protesters angry at Beijing’s support for the military junta.

China’s state-run Global Times quoted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian demanding additional protection for Chinese interests and musing that evacuation for Chinese nationals is not out of the question, a thinly-veiled threat of catastrophic economic consequences if the junta cannot restore order:

When asked about whether China will evacuate nationals in Myanmar, Zhao said China is closely monitoring the situation and very concerned about the safety of Chinese institutions and personnel. China hopes Myanmar will take measures to protect their safety, he said.

Zhao said China-Myanmar economic and trade cooperation is always based on the principle of mutual benefit and is conducive to Myanmar’s economic and social development and benefits local people.

“The actions of these lawbreakers do not serve the interests of Myanmar and its people. We call on the people of Myanmar to express their demands in accordance with the law and refrain from being incited or exploited so as to avoid damaging friendly cooperation between China and Myanmar,” Zhao said.

Several anonymous Chinese nationals living in Myanmar were quoted warning their businesses would shut down if the junta did not take additional steps to protect them. These correspondents noted they could not be expected to run their factories at full capacity if they also had to defend themselves against looters and arsonists. 

As with virtually every bit of bad news for China, the Global Times denounced the vandalism in Myanmar as part of an organized anti-China plot by sinister foreign interests, rather than a spontaneous eruption of anger by Burmese who noticed Beijing is not lifting a finger to restore the elected civilian government overthrown last month.

“The perpetrators who attacked Chinese factories were possibly anti-China locals who have been provoked by some Western anti-China forces, NGOs, and Hong Kong secessionists,” the Global Times asserted.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) pointed out Tuesday that Yangon’s industrial district has been restless and crime-riddled for a long time, while residents have long been critical of China’s motives and the working conditions in its factories. Beijing’s support for the junta is causing long-simmering resentments to boil over:

On Sunday, a statement posted by the Chinese embassy to Myanmar on Facebook about the efforts to protect Chinese businesses triggered an outpouring of fury in more than 52,000 comments.

“Does it hurt? How about people dying?” said a post from Naing Oo.

“If you want to do business peacefully in Myanmar, respect Myanmar people,” said Aye Myat Kyaw. “Stop supporting terrorist army and join Myanmar people.”

[…]

Said another Facebook user: “China is talking about its own interests rather than the loss of precious lives on the streets of Myanmar. China stands for its own benefit, not the expectation of millions of Myanmar people. They will get what they deserve.”

“Anti-China sentiment is never far from the surface in Myanmar. People there regard their giant neighbour in much the same way Poles or Estonians regard Russia. But with Beijing defending homicidal generals, that latent hostility is finding public expression,” Simon Tisdall wrote at the UK Guardian on Sunday, pointing to everything from Burmese boycotts of Chinese businesses to threats of sabotage against a major Belt and Road pipeline project.

Tisdall speculated Chinese dictator Xi Jinping might have preferred the coup had not happened, and might not feel any great affection for junta leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, but Xi values “stability” and protection for China’s investments above all, and watching a democracy go down in flames is an enjoyable sideshow for the world’s leading anti-democratic power.

Xi’s problem is that he might overestimate China’s ability to control the people of Myanmar by manipulating their laws and information streams, the way he can manipulate events in tightly-gripped Chinese imperial possessions like Hong Kong or the dungeon province of Xinjiang.

“Accustomed to manipulating news at will, China’s bosses pretend this crisis isn’t happening, that awful crimes are not occurring daily. They seem not to realize that in the world beyond their censors, there is an ever diminishing chance of permanently hiding or denying such atrocities, wherever they occur,” Tisdall wrote.

Nikkei Asian Review (NAR) on Tuesday quoted Chinese state media warning that Beijing might “be forced into taking more drastic action to protect its interests” if the Burmese junta “cannot deliver” on its promises of protection. NAR suggested threats to the Belt and Road oil and gas pipelines could be what pushes China over the edge into directly intervening against anti-coup protesters.

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